A Florida sheriff’s deputy is on leave after a cellphone video showed him roughing up a Black teen and denying he had a right to free speech.
The incident occurred on the night of Saturday, Aug. 15, outside of a Tijuana Flats restaurant in Wellington, Florida, as reported by WPTV. In the 13-second video, Palm Beach County Sheriff’s deputy Charles Rhoads argued with a handcuffed Kevin Wygant about the First Amendment.
“Yes, I do have the freedom of speech,” Wygant, 19, told Rhoads.
“Not to us you don’t,” Rhoads replied.
“Oh, I don’t have the freedom of speech to you?” Wygant asked.
Suddenly, Rhoads grabbed the back of Wygant’s shirt and shoved him against a wall.
“Fuck no,” the deputy hissed. “I’ll show you what f—–g freedom of speech is.”
The video cut off as witnesses began to express their disapproval of Rhoads’ behavior. The video went viral after civil rights attorney Ben Crump posted the clip on his Twitter page. It drew outraged reactions from several viewers of the clip.
“This is absolutely terrifying. This cop LITERALLY thinks he’s above the law,” wrote one person. “If they do this when the cameras are rolling – what do they do when its off (or when they turn em off).”
“These racist terrorists think that they can take away your first amendment rights because they’ve been doing it unhindered for over 400 years! Keep the viral videos going on these racist clowns!!” tweeted a second.
“He’s doing that around a group of people with their phones out, which means he’s definitely behaved like a thug in other instances. How many use of force complaints does this officer have?” asked another viewer.
Wygant told the Palm Beach Post he and his friend were at the restaurant to speak to an employee. The person was busy so Wygant decided to order food. He told the outlet his friend began to argue with a manager and soon after, a customer intervened. Wygant claims he was trying to diffuse the situation when the deputies arrived.
“The sergeant said, ‘If you don’t leave right now, I will charge you with trespassing,’ ” he recalled. Rhoads walked up moments later.
“I said, ‘Am I being detained?’ He said ‘no.’ I said, ’I would like to stay here and talk.’ He said, ‘That’s it. You’re under arrest.’ ”
The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s office tells a different story. The deputies were there because they got a call requesting the removal of unwanted guests “due to them causing a disturbance in the restaurant,” according to an arrest report.
Wygant was reportedly asked to leave several times by a sergeant, but according to the report he kept returning. He was arrested and charged with trespassing after the warning. His friend was also arrested, but he received several charges including disorderly intoxication, trespassing after warning, obstruction of justice and resisting without violence.
On Monday, Aug. 17, the office announced Rhoads was placed on leave and the altercation is under investigation.
“We have identified the Deputy who responded to the disturbance that occurred yesterday evening at a restaurant in the Village of Wellington,” the statement said. “Sheriff Bradshaw does not condone the behavior of our deputy and takes this matter very seriously. He has requested an internal affairs investigation into this incident. Our deputy has been placed on administrative leave until the conclusion of this investigation.”